Capital Business Machines: From Manual Typewriters to High-Tech Copiers

Olympia Capital Business MachnieThese days finding a local, third-generation business that is thriving and looking toward the future with optimism is incredibly difficult. The vast majority of second and third-generation companies unfortunately fold. However, Capital Business Machines is flourishing as the premier provider of business copiers and multi-function devices in Thurston, Mason, and Lewis Counties.

Brothers Elmer and William (Bill) Hartman Sr. originally opened their typewriter repair shop in 1948 in Seattle’s iconic Smith Tower. Four years later, driven by health issues that required a drier climate, Elmer sold his portion of the business to Bill, who then relocated it to Olympia.   Bill was drawn to a smaller town with a more relaxed pace.

Bill changed the company name to Capital Business Machines – CBM for short – and looked forward to the potential of landing plenty of customers within local state and government agencies.

The company resided in a narrow downtown storefront on Olympia’s Water Street for many years, followed by 35 years in several small buildings located on Pacific Avenue. In 1991, CBM moved to its current location – a 30,000-square-foot building complete with its own warehouse – which also just happens to be located on Pacific Avenue.

Capital Business MachineIn the early days, just seven employees sold and serviced manual typewriters, manual adding machines, and dictation machines. As the times changed, they also began to sell and service electronic typewriters and calculators. Three of Bill’s four sons – Donald (Don), Tom, and William (Bill) Jr., joined CBM in the 1950s; son Robert chose and enjoyed a long career with Darigold.

The brothers bought the business from their father in 1976.  Tom Hartman ran the company’s cash register division for 20 years before moving into the snowmobile and motorcycle business and Bill Hartman Jr. worked at CBM for many years before starting up the successful Cascade Olympic Leasing firm.  Don Sr. however, chose to stay with the family business.

Don was elected company President and is credited with expanding the business. He introduced evolving technologies, including electronic cash management machines, voice dictation technology, electronic typewriters, word processors, and computers.

Don retired in 1995 and his sons Dean, Don, and Stacey now own and run the company.

“It’s amazing to watch family businesses,” says Dean, Vice President of Operations. He runs down a long list of family-owned businesses he knows of in the area where some members had trouble working together. That’s not an issue for the Hartman brothers. “We get along great. It’s never been a problem.”

Don is CBM’s Government Accounts Manager, serving Washington State’s myriad departments, agencies, and higher education institutions. Stacey is the company’s Training Division Manager and Network Consultant.  He assists clients with designing new networks and with expanding or upgrading their current infrastructure.

“We had 13 employees when I started,” says Dean. “And went up to 59, but things changed, and you have to change with them, so we’re down to 27 now.”

“It’s like a family,” says longtime employee and Client and Support Services Supervisor Lisa Rice.

“The tenure of our employees is amazing. We have a lot of long-term sales reps,” says Dean. Such loyalty speaks volumes about the company and its treatment of employees.

Considering the vast changes in business machines since Elmer and Bill Hartman created their company, it’s even more impressive that CBM has survived and thrived. They’ve always changed with the technology.

“The stuff I sold for a living then isn’t even made today,” says Dean. “We don’t sell typewriters, dictation equipment with cassettes, cash registers, court recording equipment, electronic calculators…” the list goes on and on.

Capital Business MachineToday the company sells Sharp digital multi-function devices that will copy, print, scan and fax.  CBM also sells products such as wide format printers, network printers, and electronic white boards.  They also have an impressive training facility that offers classes in programs like Word, Excel, Access and QuickBooks, just to name a few.

“We used to sell millions of dollars in computers,” says Dean, “but now you can order a new PC online easier than fixing it.”

Although the products have changed over the years, the importance of quality customer service remains the same.

“We’ve had the luxury of being here longer,” says Dean. “We have more employees, and our parts and supplies are here in our local facility.  You give up something when you don’t have your parts, service and supplies local,” says Dean.

That’s one key to the company’s success. “Some of our bigger competitors come from out of town [for service calls],” explains Dean. “But you can’t get here faster when you are already here.”

In fact, Capital Business Machine’s service department averages an impressive service call response of four hours or less; something that its out-of-town competitors simply cannot compete with.

“You also give up something when you have a machine answer your customer’s calls,” Dean continues. “We’ve always had a receptionist. Now, when you call Delaware or India, there’s no relationship.”  Customer relationships are important to the CBM Team and that has been proven again and again.

“You bank with them, you shop at their stores, your kids go to school together and they are on the same sports teams,” continues Lisa.

The Hartman brothers learned a lot from Bill Hartman about customer relationships after his retirement in 1979. “There was a lot of going to his house and sitting down to talk Grandpa,” says Don. “He used to say, ‘I don’t know anything about the equipment you’re selling now. I can’t help you.’ And we’d say, ‘Grandpa, we’re not coming to you to learn about the equipment, we want to learn about people.’ Because he knew people, and that doesn’t change.”

“Good loyal customers – you’ve got to earn them, and then you have to keep them,” Dean adds.

Everyone at CBM also values the importance of giving back to the community.

“You can’t do everything,” says Dean, “but if my employees are involved, I’ll look at it.”

CBM participates in the Dollars for Scholars golf tournament in Chehalis and the Young Life golf tournament for young Christian boys and girls. They also sponsor soccer teams through their employees. They’ve donated machinery to organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Community Youth Services, and SafePlace.

Employees also pool funds throughout the year to donate food and presents to families during the holidays which they are connected with through the Salvation Army.

Capital Business Machines will celebrate an astounding 60 years in business next year – and with their long and varied history and flexibility at changing with the times, it’s easy to envision a centennial celebration in 2052.


Capital Business Machines

3660 Pacific Avenue SE
Olympia, WA 98503


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